Archaeology of Personhood
Robert C. Morgan PhD
edited by Peter Frank MA
While not all painting is Romantic, all true painting begins at the romantic core.
– Robert Motherwell
There are intervals when a painter is compelled to explain his approach as a painter. For example, I am interested to hear what Joost de Jonge would say about his colors, specifically as to why they often appear so direct and at other times mottled. I am interested in hearing him discuss why the waves and curves usurp the angles in his painting. Then there is the vertical positioning in his dreamscapes, whether on land or sea, and how they function in contrast to the more conventional horizontal orientation. The question of vertical and horizontal aspects of painting was earlier addressed in the writings of a Hegel-inspired Dutch mathematician and mystic named M. H. J. Schoenmaekers in 1917, whose work had had an important influence on Mondrian. Such investigations and exchanges through spoken language, even through translation, are a natural consequence that occurs through the act of painting.
Indeed, there are occasions when it becomes entirely appropriate to express doubt, a manner of thinking that painters in general would do well to consider. In other situations, language plays an important role, a key function, especially when some kind of visual opacity offers a hurdle to getting to what an artist is striving to represent in abstract terms. Either direction is acceptable, whether it happens because of doubt or, at times, through the necessity of language. In any case, the context of these enunciations is also important. Language and doubt are known to thrive upon one another in works of art as vital counterparts to presence and absence, the balance that painting requires as a means to survival, especially at the moment they ride over the crest, caught on the verge of an expressionist impulse, a veritable dream, inchoate at that. When doubt is felt in relation to the act of painting, the conflict carries the potential forward, in opposition to one’s conscious desire, or causes retraction and reflection, or sublimation of conflict – only then to declare painting, for all its defects, an heroic undertaking in its ability to retain a semblance of tactile reality amid today’s speed-infested virtualized plague, where the tingle of sensation may still be present. Joost de Jonge’s paintings give us something we need to feel and touch, if only arbitrarily, which is the story of the remains of human consciousness, the drifting of the neo-modernist’s dilemma, every bit as important as the echo from the paintings themselves.
What I find interesting about de Jonge’s work is how difficult it is to talk about individual paintings apart from the whole in terms other than the purely formal or academic. While the parts are utterly significant in relation to the whole, the formal language of the past is inadequate, whether decoded from an American or European point of view. I am inclined to borrow McLuhan’s term, “pattern recognition,” or the filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s elusive metaphor, “eyewash.” These terms are virtually interchangeable to the extent that they arrive at the same depot. Both terms consider the whole as the extension of parts. Each of de Jonge’s paintings contributes to a pixelated pattern that moves toward a conceptual picture, even as the larger picture culminates as an expressive form. Personally, I find these obsolete English terms harrowing, if not dissuasive, in relation to de Jonge’s paintings. On such occasions – critical or rational – the terms simply do not provide proper access to his work. They are slightly off-key, as they do not admit the phenomenological motive that lingers in the shadows and thereby reveals the phantasmagorical infrastructure so evident throughout his oeuvre. Joost de Jonge is at large. He dwells within a neo-modernist stratosphere where painting insists on being present, not simply as a medium, but as the truth of the matter.
And what about the archeology of personhood? Who is the person? I am reading Carl Jung and thinking about individuation. For this omnivorous protégé of Freud, the hidden self was buried within the symbolism of painting. For Jung the source of painting existed within dreams where symbols are generated, ultimately realized through their unconscious passage into selfhood. One might say the mystic aperture of the artist’s psyche towers in dreams of lost selfhood, moving perpetually in search of a stable center. This may occur through the act of painting, which Jung understood as the art of making symbols in the most complete sense. In such instances, painting offered the potential to reconstruct fragments of the symbolic non-self and resurrect them into a functional holistic self.
Joost de Jonge’s paintings are self-proclaimed works about the archeology of personhood (or existence) in the sense of which Jung speaks. They search for a symbolic truth, laid bare in the course of dreams. They impress me as semi-unconscious paintings, being the ground for the emergence of symbols, which are the conduits for restructuring the self. These paintings move toward selfhood, digging up the remains of the lost self, piecing the fragments together in a way that exhilarates the sensory apparatus that gives energy to the task at hand: the reinvention of painting as a solitary act, removed from the multifarious affairs that distract and distress our sensory awareness.
De Jonge’s paintings are abstract, but not abstract expressionist. While I have suggested the presence of expressionist content in some of de Jonge’s works, the overall sense of his paintings is not that. Although filled with vibrating forms, textures, and color, the formal concept of a painterly field is not present. The field as in the term “color field” is more American than European. In spite of being the low country, the expansive field, as far as I know, is unrelated the history of Netherlandish painting. This is not to discount the sublime, which is probably what I mean by expressionist content in Joost’s work; but the sublime is not contingent on the field. As a result, composition retains an integral role in these paintings even as their method of becoming composed is purposefully undermined, at least as a hyperconscious, predetermined decision-making process in his work.
This might also be said regarding his sense of style or perhaps his disconcerted attitude toward style. Each painting finally becomes a kind of minute rupture that detours stylistic consistency. This is what moves his work ahead, and gives it the sense of archaeology in relation to the self. Does the excavation occur at the same archaeological site on a diurnal basis? Maybe not. I get the sense that Joost de Jonge is possessed by an itinerant spirit as he wanders from one unconditional psychic site to another. He keeps his painting close to the ground, and paradoxically in an ethereal mode, emphatically removed from Neo-Platonist ideals. Transcendence seems unlikely here. Rather he appears more to be hovering from one archeological site to another, from one day to the next, between sea level and sky.